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Broadband Mapping & Data

NTIA Head Reiterates Importance of Broadband Maps for Fund Disbursal

Alan Davidson applauded the FCC’s effort in getting better broadband maps.

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Photo of Alan Davidson and Dr. Nicole Turner Lee, by Ashlan Gruwell.

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2022 – Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said Monday that effective spending of federal funding is only possible with better broadband maps.

“We can’t do this properly without better mapping data,” Davidson said at the 18th annual State of the Net conference. The NTIA will be disbursing $42.5 billion from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to the states for broadband infrastructure, but it requires an overview of areas that need it most.

Davidson’s comment comes nearly a week after the Federal Communications Commission Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said early last month that the FCC’s improved map could come as early as this summer.

While the FCC oversees improving broadband maps to help close the digital divide, Davidson noted that the NTIA will be working closely with the FCC in this endeavor. “We at the NTIA will be relying on the FCC’s maps, but we’re coordinating with them closely on that,” Davidson said at the Monday event.

Davidson spoke enthusiastically about the developments in FCC mapping, stating the agency’s most recent effort is different this time around due to “both a clear process and resources behind making those maps better.” The agency has been using additional mapping methods – instead of relying largely on ISP information – including crowdsourcing the data from Americans.

In a panel that took place before Davidson’s speech, Paul Garnett, the CEO and founder of The Vernonburg group, a consulting firm with the aim of closing the digital divide, echoed Davidson’s support of the FCC mapping. Comparing the state of America’s mapping progress on a global scale, he said, “at least we do have data, it’s pretty granular, and it’s reported on twice a year by operators.”

Spectrum coordination meetings to begin this month

Davidson also spoke of the recently announced Spectrum Coordination Initiative between the NTIA and the FCC, .

Davidson said Monday that he and FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel have been in constant communication about the partnership and said the first formal meeting concerning the initiative will be in March and will take place monthly after that.

“It’s hard work to do spectrum coordination, but we are going to do it,” Davidson said.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Kirsten Compitello: The Need for a Digital Equity Focus on Broadband Mapping

Incorporating equitable processes and outcomes from the start is crucial to avoid perpetuating continued inequalities.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Kirsten Compitello, National Broadband Digital Equity Director at Michael Baker International

Broadband for all is in the spotlight right now, and closing the digital divide is recognized as a national priority. The divide goes far beyond access and touches issues of costs, ownership, culture, awareness, skills, and more. As we enter into a period of major statewide planning and deployment efforts, incorporating equitable processes and outcomes from the start is crucial to avoid perpetuating continued inequalities in access, adoption, and literacy.

Digital equity is not just a value statement: it’s a commitment to inclusive and equitable decision making at every stage of broadband deployment, from planning to service delivery.

Ensuring equitable representation at the table

Embedding digital equity analysis into mapping is especially critical at this moment in time as we prepare for historic broadband funding. This funding is an opportunity to rebalance systemic patterns of exclusion and ensure rapidly deployed planning and implementation funds are fairly dispersed.

The Digital Equity Act provides $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs that promote digital equity and inclusion, including the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, a $60 million grant program for states and territories to develop digital equity plans. In creating these Statewide Digital Equity Plans, extensive outreach to and collaboration with underserved, unserved and historically marginalized populations will prove critical. These discussions will be much more informative and effective in guiding successful policies, programs and projects if they are rooted in clear understanding of social, economic and environmental patterns alongside broadband access maps.

Documenting the effects of digital exclusion

Access is not an equal term: reducing it simply to speed of service available neglects the social and economic complexities that determine how and where users are affected by a lack of broadband. In short, mapping where the infrastructure exists only tells part of the story. Data analysis needs to layer in demographic and economic information in order to reveal patterns of exclusion and identify root causes.

To better understand community impacts, our team at Michael Baker developed data visualization tools such as a Digital Equity Atlas which takes the next step toward analyzing how broadband gaps disproportionately impact segments of the population. The methodology looks at Title VI and Environmental Justice data to reveal where poor connectivity correlates to social factors including low income, senior populations, English as a Second Language, households without a vehicle and more. As an example, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission leveraged the Digital Equity Atlas to prioritize new broadband expansion projects that stand to benefit the greatest number of at-risk or marginalized households. These households should not be last in line to see broadband investment finally bringing greater connectivity and opportunities to their doorsteps.

Fulfilling Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program requirements

Federal reporting requirements for upcoming Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act funding call for a proven and documented understanding and analysis of digital equity needs, from planning to projects in the ground.

The IIJA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program provides $42.45 billion to expand broadband access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs across the country. Statewide Five-Year Action Plans, funded through this program, will require government agencies and their partners to take an integrated digital equity approach.

From planning through the ensuing reporting requirements, establishing digital equity strategies and a clear rubric for measuring success in achieving digital equity goals is a must for agencies. These entities must demonstrate how projects funded through BEAD improve digital equity. A strong data-driven baseline – such as the Digital Equity Atlas – will be a necessary starting point for agencies to track and monitor the effect of each new deployment on surrounding households. These data-driven metrics will also be a win for state and local governments to tell the story of their successes with clear data to back it up.

Setting a goal for sustainable inclusivity

As the consumption of internet content continues to rise and as broadband for all projects bring connectivity to the unserved, baseline expectations for broadband service and speed will only continue to grow. If we aren’t careful, new categories of have-nots will emerge: for example, those who pay high fees for minimum speeds versus those with lower fees for premier plans and Gig speeds. The currently unserved will gain access to service, but many will continue to struggle with basic internet skills, navigating through complex terms of service, or even simply finding time to schedule installation without missing a day of work.

To create a truly equitable society, everyone – no matter age, ability, location or status – needs access to affordable and reliable broadband; internet-connected devices; education on digital technology and best use practices; tech support and online resources that help users participate, collaborate and work independently.

By grounding our planning in equitable practices from the very first step, we can help to ensure that everyone is able to benefit from Internet for All.

Kirsten Compitello, AICP, is the National Broadband Digital Equity Director at Michael Baker International. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

62% of Americans Have Access to High-Speed 5G, Says New BroadbandNow Map

The company says its map is based on millions of M-Lab speed tests conducted over a six-month period.

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Photo of John Busby, the managing director of BroadbandNow

September 23, 2022 – Roughly 62 percent of Americans can receive access to high-speed 5G wireless coverage at home, according to a newly released map from the research and aggregator BroadbandNow.

Released on September 12, the map of the nation’s high-speed 5G coverage shows that 206.4 million Americans are able to receive such wireless coverage at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or more on download speeds.

The map – based upon actual speed results –shows performance data by provider in all ZIP codes in which high-speed 5G is available. BroadbandNow simplifies the geography to include the entire ZIP code in which a speed result is found. The map’s data includes average speed, top speed, packet loss, and speed-test sample size.

The company says its map is based on millions of M-Lab speed tests conducted over a six-month period.

The map shows dense areas of high-speed 5G coverage in much of the South, the Great Lakes region, the southern Great-Plains states, and the West Coast. High-speed coverage is sparser in the Dakotas, the Rocky Mountain region, the Southwest, and a few outlier states such as Maine and West Virginia.

Advertised speeds vs. experienced speeds

BroadbandNow’s website notes the 5G map’s speed-tested data differs from other BroadbandNow data that is based on providers responses to the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477, which shows the speeds providers claim to offer.

Indeed, the commonly occurring differences between providers’ advertised broadband speeds and users’ experienced broadband speeds frequently are currently a hot topic among experts in the telecommunications space.

“We’re trying to ask a different question, which is what’s available in an area as opposed to what people are actually subscribing to,” said Bryan Darr, vice president of smart communities for Ookla, at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

Ookla’s speed-test data shows suggests many areas that should have high-speed coverage – based on providers’ Form 477 reporting – do not, said Darr. In Colorado, for instance, Ookla data showed that speeds of less than 25 Mbps were consistently reported in certain areas in which CenturyLink claimed to offer fiber coverage.

“Clearly there’s questions to be asked here,” said Darr. “Why is no one here seeing an increase in speed?”

BroadbandNow is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Panelists at Broadband Breakfast Event Urge the FCC Mapping Fabric Be Made Public

They objected to being required to help build CostQuest’s database, but are unable to utilize database for their own benefit.

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Screenshot of Dustin Loup, project manager of the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition.

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s policy to withhold broadband mapping data from the general public is unjustifiable, panelists said during a panel at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

Screenshot of Dustin Loup, project manager of the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition.

The FCC’s “fabric,” constructed by partner CostQuest Associates, is a dataset that identifies all locations nationwide and in U.S. territories at which “fixed broadband internet access service has been or could be installed.”

It is planned to be the basis for the FCC’s new broadband map and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s allocation of $42.45 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program funding to the states.

The FCC will accept challenges to the fabric’s accuracy on a rolling basis, the agency has said, adding that corrections will be made to it. And while a preliminary version of the fabric was released to state, local, and tribal governments, providers, and other entities earlier this year, it remains unavailable to the general public.

Don’t miss the Broadband Mapping Masterclass! You can navigate the treacherous waters around broadband mapping by participating in this 2-hour Masterclass for only $99. Enroll TODAY in this LIVE Masterclass on Tuesday, September 27, at 12 Noon ET

“It’s hard to think of a legitimate reason for excluding third parties from the fabric at this point,” said Scott Wallsten, president of the Technology Policy Institute. The institute is one such third party that would like access to the fabric, Wallsten said.

And while certain aggregations might be necessary to protect ISPs’ and other entities’ proprietary data, Wallsten argued that access to the fabric’s information could greatly benefit a range of industry entities. Wallsten said the creation of an accurate location-by-location map necessitates the juxtaposition and integration of many different datasets, “require[ing] lots and lots of transparency.”

The FCC imposed limitations on how the fabric can be used, even by those granted access, said Dustin Loup, project manager of the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition.

“The licenses that are used to gain access to the fabric essentially say that you can use the fabric for reporting into the broadband data collection program or challenging the accuracy of the fabric. Withholding the fabric from the general public precludes non-approved entities from verifying the accuracy of the fabric’s data,” he added.

Licensing agreement between CostQuest and FCC impacts public

While CostQuest owns the initial fabric data, data generated from the challenge process is the FCC’s. Pursuant to the contractual agreement between the two, however, the challenge data is leased to CostQuest and may be used in the company’s commercial products.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims on September 14 released an opinion dismissing a challenge to the FCC’s contract with CostQuest.

Loup objected to communities being “required to help build CostQuest’s database” but being unable to utilize that database for their own benefit. He attributed that result to the FCC’s strict usage restrictions unless the third party were to purchase CostQuest’s commercial mapping products.

Wallsten also questioned why the FCC’s has control over broadband mapping in the first place. He said other federal agencies, including a suggestion that the United States Geological Survey step in, have relevant expertise and are more disinterested in broadband-policy fights than is the FCC.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Broadband Mapping and Data

Much hinges on the success or failure of the Federal Communications Commissions’ updated broadband maps. This fall the agency is entering into a period of intensive updating in which it is assessing an address-level “fabric” of locations and comparing internet service data received from providers. Now comes the hard part: Providing a framework for broadband users and providers to understand and challenge the FCC’s map. The future of the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act depends upon it.

Panelists:

  • Scott Wallsten, President, Technology Policy Institute
  • Bryan Darr, Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla
  • Dustin Loup, Program Manager, Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Don’t miss the Broadband Mapping Masterclass! You can navigate the treacherous waters around broadband mapping by participating in this 2-hour Masterclass for only $99. Enroll TODAY in this LIVE Masterclass on Tuesday, September 27, at 12 Noon ET

Bryan Darr is the Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla. He coordinates Ookla’s outreach to local, state and federal governments and serves on CTIA’s Smart Cities Business & Technology Working Group.

Scott Wallsten is President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute and also a senior fellow at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy. He is an economist with expertise in industrial organization and public policy, and his research focuses on competition, regulation, telecommunications, the economics of digitization, and technology policy. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University.

Dustin Loup is an expert on internet governance and policy and program manager for the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition. Much of his work centers on improving digital inclusion and establishing transparent, open-source, and openly verifiable mapping methodologies and standards.

White House photo from August 2021 by Adam Schultz

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